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Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen X Walk into a Bar: Generational Impacts on Hospitality Design

Every new generation that comes along is shaped, not only by the events and culture they experience, but by the generations that came before them. These influences not only impact the viewpoints, passions, and causes of the generation itself, but also have profound effects on a variety of industries and businesses. This week, as part of IIDA’s Emerging Leaders program, Interior Designer Molly Randell, along with a group of other talented design professionals, tackled this topic, enlightening us to the ways Gen Z is impacting the hospitality industry.

The presentation, aptly named Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen X Walk into a Bar, began by introducing us to Gen Z, a group that currently makes up 30% of the population and therefore, is poised to have a major impact on our built environment.

The speakers went on to share how Gen Z’s values differ from its predecessors, shaped by life events like growing up during a recession and having access to the internet their entire lives.

Based on this data, let’s look at how designers can incorporate these traits into their work.

¤ Designers should be cognizant of incorporating features that make a restaurant or hotel a lifestyle, more than simply a place to dine out. Incorporating vibrant colors, references to pop culture and whimsical décor, are key.

Unique design elements and interior spaces inspire clients to photograph and share images of a space. (Left: The Lexington, Cambridge; Right; Revival Café, Somerville)

¤ Designers need to incorporate technology into design more now than ever. Convenience is a key value to Gen Z, and design needs to allow for implementations like touch station ordering and mobile order pick-up areas.

¤ Gen Z values inclusion more than any generation before it. Universal design and varied/all-occasion seating should be taken into consideration when designing a layout and selecting furniture and equipment. Gen Z will choose a restaurant in which everyone is accommodated over a restaurant that isn’t equipped to do so.

A mix of seating options allow all diners to dine comfortably. (Left: Southern Proper, Boston; Right: The Lexington, Cambridge)

¤ Unlike Millennials and Gen X, Gen Z is all about being a participant over a spectator. They enjoy being seen and being together, experiencing life to the fullest. This translates to designing spaces that include areas that can be used for non-dining purposes. Flexibility is essential. Eateries now need to be able to transform into a yoga studio or gallery space, in order to keep Gen Z coming back for more.

Flexible spaces allow restaurants to host community meetings, events, and activities (Dorchester Brewing Co., Dorchester)

¤ Designers should utilize social media to share project photos that that speak to Gen Z, such as posting images of spaces that provide a backdrop for that “Instagrammable Moment”.

Artist installations and unique design features inspire clients to photograph and share a space. (Left: Cambria Hotel, Boston; Right: Coppersmith, Boston)

As interior designers and architects, we need to constantly be aware of the impacts each generation has on the hospitality industry. Having designed nearly thirty restaurants, we know that these inspired spaces must anticipate and accommodate generational influences in order to increase the longevity of a space and continuously appeal to the ever-changing needs and wants of its clientele.


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